Three of the largest Evangelical groups in the Church of England merge

23 February 2018

CHURCH SOCIETY

Merging: delegates at a joint conference held by Church Society and FWS, in February 2016

Merging: delegates at a joint conference held by Church Society and FWS, in February 2016

THE three largest conservative Evangelical groups in the Church of England are to merge into a single body.

Reform and the Fellowship of the Word and Spirit (FWS) will encourage their members to join the Church Society, which will be relaunched at its annual general meeting in May.

In a statement, the three societies said that they had decided to join forces because the “challenges of the present time require us to unite our efforts so that we are better placed to harness the energies of Evangelicals in contending for the gospel”.

The Church Society is the oldest of the three organisations, and, besides promoting conservative Evangelicalism, is also patron of about 120 parish livings.

Reform was one of the most vocal conservative Evangelical groups during the debates on women bishops. In their last accounts, which cover the year to 31 August 2016, the group had 1503 members, and 35 affiliated parishes.

The FWS, which began in 1984, is smaller: in the year to 4 April 2017, it had an income of £7385, and spent £6606. Most of its activity, in recent years, has been focused on its annual conference.

The director of the Church Society, the Revd Dr Lee Gatiss, said that the unity scheme was the biggest thing to happen in Anglican Evangelicalism in 25 years. “This is a huge story, and counters the fiction that orthodox groups are fragmenting and leaving. We’re not. We’re coming together like never before, as the times demand.”

At the May conference, the three groups will be brought together, a new Church Society council will be elected to include members from both Reform and the FWS, and a president will be appointed. The Bishop of Maidstone, the Rt Revd Rod Thomas, who was previously the chairman of Reform, said that he was approaching the merger with “real enthusiasm and hopefulness”.

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“Twenty-five years ago, Reform came into existence in order to galvanise Evangelicals into contending for scriptural faithfulness within the Church of England. Much has changed since then, but the urgent need to keep contending for the gospel remains,” he said.

The Revd Dr Rob Munro, who chairs the FWS, said that, as the C of E was in a “crisis about its convictions and influence”, it was vital that conservative Evangelicals unite so their message could be heard “with greater clarity and power”.

In the Church Society’s podcast last month, Dr Gatiss explained that, while their friends in the Anglican Mission in England were pursuing a path outside the C of E, his organisation, Reform, and the FWS, were committed to staying inside.

“It looks like Evangelicals are always chopping themselves up into little salami pieces and deciding to leave,” he said. “What a great story we would have for the wider Church if we say, ‘Yes, there are some who are going to leave, and blessings upon them as they follow their consciences, but we want to stay, and we’re coming together to unite, to stay and to fight, to make it hard for the gospel to be denied and opposed in the modern Church of England.’”

This was echoed by Canon David Banting, a former chairman of Reform and a campaigner on the General Synod. He said that divisions among conservative Evangelicals were “little short of scandalous or irresponsible”, and that unity was “urgent and overdue”.

Reform was one of the most vocal conservative Evangelical groups during the debates on women bishops. In their last accounts, which cover the year to 31 August 2016, the group had 1503 members, and 35 affiliated parishes.

The FWS, which began in 1984, is smaller: in the year to 4 April 2017, it had an income of £7385, and spent £6606. Most of its activity, in recent years, has been focused on its annual conference.

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